MIKEL MERINO is hoping to develop into the next world-class Spanish central midfielder after signing a five-year contract to complete a permanent move to Newcastle United.

Having already paid Borussia Dortmund a £2.5m loan fee to initially sign Merino on a temporary basis in the summer, Newcastle have shelled out a further £6.5m to convert his short-term deal into a permanent transfer.

As an established Spain Under-21 international, Merino is being touted in his homeland as a potential star of the future, and his first seven appearances in a Newcastle shirt have confirmed his abundant promise.

He has plenty to live up to in terms of Spain’s central-midfield legacy, with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets having worn the national side’s shirt with distinction in the last decade.

Merino grew up watching Spain’s ‘golden generation’ sweep all before them on the world stage, and while he readily admits he has some way to go before he can even contemplate being able to match them, he has tried to model his own game on their identifiably Spanish style.

“Of course I was influenced by all the great Spanish midfielders, it would be impossible not to be,” said Merino, who will be at the heart of Newcastle’s midfield when they return to action at Southampton tomorrow. “There have always been great players from Spain, especially central midfielders.

“They have all been really good ball players, who enjoy playing with their team-mates. You are bound to be influenced by them. I like to play that type of football. Ever since I was a young kid, that is the way I have tried to play.

“They are my idols, so it is normal to want to play like them. I know they have lots of good qualities, and I have tried to learn from them. You are expected to play in the tiki-taka way, and I can do that, but I think I can do other things too. I am trying to be a complete midfielder, that is my aim.”

Fabregas has proved it is possible to transfer Spain’s slick, possession-based midfield style to the Premier League, and if anything, Merino looks even more ideally suited to the demands of the English game.

He is taller than most of the Spanish midfielders he has idolised, and has embraced the physicality of the English game since moving from the Bundesliga. He plays in a ‘number ten’ role for Spain Under-21s, but Rafael Benitez has utilised him in a deeper position for Newcastle, enabling his energy, work rate and slick technique to come to the fore.

“If I had to pick one player I would like to be like, it would probably be Xabi Alonso,” said Merino, who started his career in the youth ranks at Osasuna. “I am different to him – I am taller and more physical – but I admire the way those sorts of players play, and how good they are with the ball.

“Of course it is harder to play in that style in the Premier League, because the players are very physically strong here. The way that football is played here can be strong, fast and physical, with lots of long balls and second-phase play. But when you have a strong mentality and grew up with another style of football, it is not a problem to adapt.”

Having scored for the Under-21s in each of the last two international breaks, Merino is targeting a maiden cap for Spain’s senior side. Next summer’s World Cup might come too soon for him, but while he has already been linked with a possible future move to Barcelona, he insists he can fulfil his international ambitions in a Newcastle shirt.

“That is my dream,” he said. “It will be hard, and I will never think it will be easy. You only have to see the squad, and the players we have.

“We have some of the best in the world. It is probably not ready to happen right now, but I hope to be near in the future. And yes, I can achieve that here, why not?”

Tomorrow’s outing at St Mary’s will be Merino’s eighth for the Magpies, a tally that matches his total number of appearances for Borussia Dortmund in the whole of last season.

The 21-year-old never really got a look-in at the Westfalonstadion, and might have been forced to endure a lengthy spell on the Newcastle bench had Jonjo Shelvey not been dismissed against Tottenham on the opening weekend of the season. That opened up a gap at the heart of midfield, and Merino has not looked back since.

“It felt like I wasn’t really a footballer,” he said, of his time at Dortmund. “It’s hard when you are not playing and don’t have the confidence of those around you. It’s hard because you think you deserve it, and that you could improve the team and do good things. But it feels like you are the only person who thinks that way, so you have to have a strong mentality and keep training and working.

“In Dortmund, I didn’t have the confidence of the coach. Here, I think they all trust me and my abilities. That is the main reason things are different, because I am not a different player. I am the same player as I was last year. The only difference now is that I am playing regularly.”